Five and a half years after the so-called 'Operation Rubbish' came to public light, in which the Río de la Miel rubbish dump in Nerja was investigated for illegal dumping, Malaga’s criminal court began the trial on Monday in which the accused are - among others - the Mayor of Nerja, José Alberto Armijo, and the councillor for Town Planning, Nieves Atencia.
On the first day of the trial, the only person to testify was Armijo, who claimed that he had always obeyed the recommendations of the council's legal services and that the construction waste left there was the responsibility of the quarrying company.
The prosecutor, who is asking for two years in prison for the mayor, a fine and an 18-month ban from public office, questioned the origin of this dump at the end of the 1990s, when he was already mayor of Nerja. Armijo acknowledged that in 1998 he authorised the "unloading" of rubble with the main objective of sealing the quarry, and always with a legal report authorising it.
"At that time this was not a relevant issue," the mayor argued, who blamed part of the responsibility for having left the rubble in this area on the then councillor for the environment, José Luis Pezzi, who died in 2006.
"The 1998 authorisation document was drawn up by the legal services and I signed it," said Armijo, who admitted that he is not always aware of everything that reaches his desk. "I often signed documents without reading them because I trusted the municipal lawyer," he admitted. Asked about the proceedings opened by the Junta de Andalucía, which never ended in sanctions, the mayor reiterated his argument. "I listen to my legal services, not to those of the regional administration", he argued, while recalling that the intention was always to "restore the quarry".
During his defence, Armijo alluded to the fact that his government team never promoted the use of the landfill, but that this has happened instead during the PSOE legislature of 2015 to 2019. "Even so, the landfill did not constitute any kind of political, social or environmental problem.”
In addition to the mayor of Nerja and the town planning councillor, six business people from the construction sector in the area are also on trial in this case. For all of them, the prosecutor is asking for a sentence of two years in prison and 18 months ban from working, as well as the payment of fines of 7,300 and 18,250 euros, for an alleged crime against natural resources and the environment.
In addition to the eight defendants, more than twenty witnesses are expected to testify, including the former socialist mayor, Rosa Arrabal, the PSOE councillor José María Rivas, and former councillors José Miguel Jimena, from the Partido Popular (PP), and Manuel Valero and Jorge Bravo, both from the united left party (Izquierda Unida).
Also testifying as witnesses will be municipal and Junta technicians, Seprona agents and the ex-delegate for the Environment of the regional administration in Malaga and ex-mayor of Periana, Adolfo Moreno. Several of them were questioned during the investigations, the court in Torrox, where the case was initially heard, took the decision that there was no criminal responsibility.
The River de la Miel landfill was operational between June 1998 and September 2016. It was authorised by Nerja town hall following the closure of an old quarry, a year before the area was declared a natural park in the Sierras Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama. During those 18 years, more than 802,000 cubic metres of all kinds of waste was dumped in the area, "from pruning, construction, asbestos, paints and other dangerous and inflammable materials", said the prosecutor.
During this time, the Junta de Andalucía opened at least four proceedings ordering its closure, but each one expired and the facility was not closed until an order from the regional administration in September 2016. The situation of the landfill was reported on several occasions by the Izquierda Unida, environmentalists and local residents.